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What’s Wrong with Liberal Jews?

Progressive except for Palestine

By Philip Giraldi • Unz Review • January 16, 2018

Jerry Seinfeld, the Jewish American comedian, who was performing in Tel Aviv Israel at the Menora Mavtichim Arena at the end of December, recently made the news over his real live adventure at an anti-terrorism tourism camp. The so-called Counter Terror and Security Academy named Caliber 3 is a tourist training camp near the Efrat settlement south of Bethlehem, which means it is, appropriately enough, actually built on land stolen from the Palestinians. The camp’s website commemorated the Seinfeld visit by posting notice of the participation of “the legendary Jerry Seinfeld and his family,” plus photos, in a vignette that has since been removed.

The Caliber 3 website describes itself as “the leading counter terror and security training academy, run by active members of the IDF.” The day visit includes a “shooting adventure” involving a simulated suicide bombing in a Jerusalem marketplace as well as a terrorist knife attack. The package, which costs $115 per adult and $85 for children, includes sniper training and a demonstration of the use of attack dogs against a terrorist suspect.

The bad guys in the scenarios were inevitably the Palestinians, invariably described as “terrorists,” and the heroes were the Israeli army and police who were, of course, protecting innocent Jewish civilians. Jerry was photographed grinning and his entire entourage cheered and waved to demonstrate what a wonderful time they were having.

Now Jerry Seinfeld is not just a funny man, he is also a hard-core Hollywood-by-way-of-New York liberal and he may actually believe nonsense like Benjamin Netanyahu really wants peace or that a two-state solution for Israel-Palestine would work just fine, not recognizing that that ship has already sailed. Most of his peers in the heavily Jewish entertainment industry are also politically liberal, though they would likely choose to be called “progressive,” the preferred nomenclature since Ronald Reagan made liberal unfashionable.

Jerry is probably full of warm and fuzzy feelings about racial injustice, illegal immigrants and voting rights in America but he is either unaware or indifferent to the fact that a fundamentally racist Israel is preparing to expel or imprison forty-thousand African asylum seekers and that hundreds of thousands of Arabs who are under the life-and-death control of the Israeli security services have no rights whatsoever apart from being tried by military tribunals where the conviction rate is 99%. Nor is Jerry or any of his Hollywood friends likely to stage a benefit for 16 year old Ahed Tamimi, who is in prison in Israel facing a possible life in prison sentence for having slapped an Israeli soldier from a patrol that had invaded her family home in her West Bank village shortly after shooting her cousin in the head.

I have to believe that Jerry doesn’t obsess much over his Israeli hosts having stolen someone else’s land and killing them if they resist. But I also have to believe that if Jerry were to witness a training camp like C-3 in the United States where the shooting of black people or illegal Mexicans were simulated he would no doubt be both outraged and disgusted, even though somehow shooting simulated Arabs and grinning while doing so does not appear to bother him one bit.

Unfortunately, Jerry the Jewish liberal is not that unusual. American Jews, who are the key to the continuing blank check American support of Israel, balk at recognizing the evil that the self-defined Jewish state represents even though both opinion polls and voting patterns suggest strongly that they are predominantly reliably liberal regarding both social and political issues. Israel does, in fact, reject the values of most diaspora Jews while also contradicting the moral and ethical tradition of Judaism itself, which it claims to uphold. It is the antithesis of what many American Jews believe to be the right way to behave.

As a theocracy that acts like every other theocracy, including neighboring Saudi Arabia, Israel exists to promote the interests and well-being of its own co-ethnoreligionists, which means that the concerns of other religious groups or citizens are basically of no interest whatsoever. And Israel is not only a theocracy, it is also a prime model of a national security state where the military and police have a relatively free hand. In its interaction with the indigenous Arabs, Israel is a settler colonial state that regards the original inhabitants as inferior creatures only fit to be ethnically cleansed or, at best, to do menial work for their Jewish masters.

Israel has consequently been called an “apartheid state,” but some observers who actually experienced South African apartheid believe that what is practiced in Israel, where Palestinians are harassed at numerous military checkpoints and are routinely denied building and residency permits to force them to leave their homes, is far, far worse. “Liberal Zionist” Michelle Goldberg, writing recently in the New York Times, put it succinctly: “Supporters of Israel hate it when people use the word ‘apartheid’ to describe the country, but we don’t have another term for a political system in which one ethnic group rules over another, confining it to small islands of territory and denying it full political representation.”

Recently Israel has demonstrated its essential thuggishness by taking advantage of the Trump Jerusalem decision to legalize the expansion of its borders farther into the West Bank while also approving the building of more than 1,100 new houses. It has banned travel to Israel by representatives of twenty international organizations that have been critical of its behavior, including the Quaker American Friends Service Committee that saved many Jews during the Second World War as well as the largely Jewish Code Pink and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).

And the predominantly liberal highly educated and assimilated American Jews who choose to hold their noses and look the other way when Israel misbehaves exact a price on every other American. Lockstep support for Israel costs billions in U.S. Treasury provided and tax-exempt dollars annually, but does even more damage in terms of bad foreign policy choices and loss of respect from other nations due to Washington’s constant protecting of the murderous and corrupt Netanyahu government, defending the indefensible in a client state which contributes absolutely nothing to the well-being of Americans.

And then there are the wars fought at least in part on behalf of Israel, supported enthusiastically by the U.S. media and political class. Most recently, the White House and Israel have entered into a secret arrangement to destabilize Iran, which does not threaten the United States. Such pointless interventionism by Washington in the Middle East derives from the corruption of American politics and politicians due to Jewish money, a process that is currently working its way through various legislatures in seeking to define any criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism while also driving the same, labeled “hate speech,” from the internet. At the local level, government job seekers and those applying for public grants must actually agree in writing in some states not to boycott Israel, incredibly imposing rules relating to a foreign government on American citizens.

The recent bad decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem came about mostly due to the millions of dollars that Israeli/American casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson pumped into the Trump election campaign. Adelson, who regrets having once served in the U.S. Army instead of that of Israel, once claimed that the Palestinians exist “to destroy Israel.” He has his Democratic Party counterpart in Hollywood’s Haim Saban, the principal donor to the Hillary Clinton campaign, who has claimed that he is a one issue guy and that issue is Israel.

Indeed, liberal Jews understand perfectly well, just as do most other observers, that the Israel story is a tale of follow the money, even if it is not considered polite to say so. The Jewish oligarch billionaires club – Adelson, Saban, Bernard Marcus, Paul Singer, Larry Ellison – who are to a man obsessed with protecting Israel, work together with major Jewish organizations to dominate the American political class through their largesse. Inevitably, they expect a quid pro quo and they almost always get what they want.

And then there are the venal bootlicking politicians who wallow in Israel-love for tribal reasons, my favorites being Senators Chuck Schumer and Ben Cardin. Schumer has designated himself the “shomer” or defender of Israel in the U.S. Senate, leading one to ask how is it possible that the voters in New York elect someone who says openly that he will protect the interests of another country rather than the United States? And how does such a reptile become Senate Minority Leader? More money assiduously applied to the Democratic National Committee, one suspects.

Allan Brownfeld of the American Council for Judaism describes the situation with considerable clarity. He says Judaism is a religion and Israel is a country. The two should never be confused and active or tacit support for the bad behavior by Israel actually damages the ethical basis of Judaism. American Jews are first and foremost Americans and that is where their loyalty should lie, not with a foreign country.

Gilad Atzmon has a somewhat different take on the dilemma confronting diaspora Jews who are somewhat befuddled, if not completely convinced, by the Israeli government claims that it represents all Jews worldwide. He writes “if Israel defines itself as the Jewish State and decorates its F-35s with Jewish symbols, we are entitled to ask who are the Jews, what is Judaism, what is Jewishness and how all these terms relate to each other! Evidently these questions terrify some Jewish ethnic activists.”

Some would argue that there is growing sentiment among liberal American Jews, particularly the younger ones, to dissociate from Israel and to condemn its behavior. To be sure this would appear to be true, and there are also numerous Jewish dominated “progressive” organizations that are highly critical of Israel’s current government. Many of them are astonishingly ineffective, suggesting that there is a certain ambivalence among the critics. This arises in part, I suspect, because they ultimately want to protect Israel as a Jewish state, only demanding that it somehow behave better and be nice to the Palestinians, but there is no likelihood that that will happen in the foreseeable future given the lack of any significant political party in Israel that would support such a development.

This process of rationalizing ultimately contradictory theses has been described as working from inside the Jewish bubble and is related to the politics of Jewish identity. Groups like Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) do not really see themselves as Americans speaking to other Americans about the impact of Israel on the United States. Instead, they identify as Jews addressing worldwide Jewry over the issue of how to support Jewish supremacy in Israel/Palestine as a sine qua non of Jewish identity while doing what is necessary to avoid unpleasant consequences. The effect of this ambivalence from inside is corrosive, leading some to believe that Jewish gatekeepers will successfully misdirect grassroots movements like Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) to make sure that they do no real damage to the Jewish state just as they have already hamstrung groups demanding an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

It has also been observed that Jewish liberals who oppose Israeli policies frequently have more pity for themselves than for the people under Netanyahu’s jackboot and their proposals frequently defer to Israeli interests. And sometimes there are personal interests at stake. Rebecca Vilkomerson of JVP, who was blacklisted by Israel and will be unable to travel there, is married to an Israeli Jonathan Lebowitsch, who is a Solution Architect at Checkpoint, a cybersecurity company with ties to the Israeli military. She is now for the first time living with a reality imposed by the Israeli government that is analogous to what many Palestinians have experienced since 1948, i.e. being unable to go back to the homes that their families have lived in for generations. And she is a Jew who has broken no law, dealing with a Jewish state that is proclaimed to be the “only democracy in the Middle East.”

Other groups like J-Street veer even further in the direction of compromise with Israeli interests, basically wanting a Jewish state that is less offensive to the international audience, with some kind of fantasy concordat with the Arabs that will make the issue of what kind of place Israel really is less visible. Some time ago, I attended a J Street sponsored talk by a retired Israeli general who was supposed to be of the “peace” party. His message: “Iran must be destroyed.”

I used to believe that educating the American public about what is really going on in the Middle East would bring about a change in policy. I don’t believe it any longer because Jews control the media and the message. As Peter Beinart puts it, “In part that’s because establishment Jewish discourse about Israel is, in large measure, American public discourse about Israel. Watch a discussion of Israel on American TV and what you’ll hear, much of the time, is a liberal American Jew (Thomas Friedman, David Remnick) talking to a centrist American Jew (Dennis Ross, Alan Dershowitz) talking to a hawkish American Jew (William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer), each articulating different Zionist positions.”

And beyond the media there is the heavy hand of the agitprop being disseminated by the Trump Administration. U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who recently tried to expunge the word “occupation” from the State Department language describing Israel’s colonization of the West Bank, claimed falsely last week that the Palestinians and their leadership are to blame for the lack of a peace deal with Israel. The statement by Friedman denounced Hamas for praising a drive-by shooting that killed an Israeli Rabbi in a West Bank attack. “An Israeli father of six was killed last night in cold blood by Palestinian terrorists. Hamas praises the killers and PA laws will provide them financial rewards.” Friedman said. “Look no further to why there is no peace.” Friedman supports the fanatical settler movement and has never expressed any sympathy for the far more numerous Palestinian children killed in the past two months by Israeli security forces.

It is undoubtedly true that an increasing number of Jewish American liberals have been troubled by the Israeli police state, which politically has tilted increasingly hard right. Even with an accommodating media, the Israeli refusal to end the occupation of the West Bank and the strangling of the open-air prison that is Gaza have been very visible and have made many question the state’s democratic pretensions. The military domination of a subject population also has a demographic downside in that the land controlled by Israel includes over 6.2 million Palestinian Arabs and about 6.5 million Jews. The Palestinian birthrate is higher than the Jewish birthrate and, in twenty years, Arabs will outnumber Jews in what might be described as Greater Israel, but it is now clear that Israel as it currently sees itself will never grant those Arabs equal rights or give up its attempt to completely dominate the region from the Jordan River to the sea.

Why is all this obsessing over the paradoxical behavior of Jewish liberals important? It is important because American Jews are hugely over-represented in the places that matter: in the media, in entertainment, in politics, in financial services, in the professions, in the arts and in education. It has been my own personal experience that some prominent Jewish critics of Israel resent identical criticism coming from non-Jews and tend to use their resources to marginalize it, frequently alleging that it is motivated by anti-Semitism. That means that the goyim will never be able to shift the press or congress or the White House about how awful the connection with Israel really is, no matter what we say or do, but as soon as Jewish American liberals get on board and convince themselves that they cannot stand any more of the lying about Israel change will come. It is all about Jewish power in America, but this time as a potential positive force. Guys like Jerry Seinfeld will have to figure out that performing in Israel and playing around for a laugh at their counter-terrorist indoctrination centers that simulate shooting Arabs is not exactly acceptable. We might even get Hollywood on board to produce an honest movie about the plight of the Palestinians.

Philip M. Giraldi, Ph.D., is Executive Director of the Council for the National Interest, a 501(c)3 tax deductible educational foundation that seeks a more interests-based U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Website is http://www.councilforthenationalinterest.org, address is P.O. Box 2157, Purcellville VA 20134 and its email is inform@cnionline.org.

January 16, 2018 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Surrounded by Neocons

They are all the news that fits

By Philip Giraldi • Unz Review • January 9, 2018

Award winning journalist James Risen has recently described in some detail his sometimes painful relationship with The New York Times. His lengthy account is well worth reading as it demonstrates how successive editors of the paper frequently cooperated with the government to suppress stories on torture and illegal activity while also self-censoring to make sure that nothing outside the framework provided by the “war on terror” should be seriously discussed. It became a faithful lap dog for an American role as global hegemon, promoting government half-truths and suppressing information that it knew to be true but which would embarrass the administration in power, be they Democrats or Republicans.

If one were to obtain a similar insider account of goings-on at the other national “newspaper of record”, The Washington Post, it is quite likely that comparable trimming of the narrative also took place. To be sure, the Post is worse than the Times, characterized by heavily editorializing in its news coverage without necessarily tipping off the reader when “facts” end and speculation begins. In both publications, stories about Iran or Russia routinely begin with an assertion that Moscow interfered in the 2016 U.S. election and that Iran is the aggressor in the Middle East, contentions that have not been demonstrated and can easily be challenged. Both publications also have endorsed every American war since 2001, including Iraq, Libya and the current mess in Syria, one indication of the quality of their reporting and analysis.

A recent op-ed in the Times by Bret Stephens is a perfect example of warmongering mischief wrapped in faux expert testimony to make it palatable. Stephens is the resident neocon at the Times. He was brought over from the Wall Street Journal when it was determined that his neocon colleague David Brooks had become overly squishy, while the resident “conservative” Russ Douthat had proven to be a bit too cautious and even rational to please the increasingly hawkish senior editors.

Stephens’ article, entitled Finding the Way Forward on Iran sparkles with throwaway gems like “Tehran’s hyperaggressive foreign policy in the wake of the 2015 nuclear deal” and “Real democracies don’t live in fear of their own people” and even “it’s not too soon to start rethinking the way we think about Iran.” Or try “A better way of describing Iran’s dictatorship is as a kleptotheocracy, driven by impulses that are by turns doctrinal and venal.”

Bret has been a hardliner on Iran for years. Early on in this op-ed he makes very clear that he wants it to be dealt with forcibly because it has “centrifuges, ballistic missiles, enriched uranium [and] fund[s] Hezbollah, assist Bashar al-Assad, arm[s] the Houthis, [and] imprison[s] the occasional British or American citizen.” He describes how Iran is a very corrupt place run by religious leaders and Revolutionary Guards and proposes that their corruption be exposed so that the Iranian people can take note and rise up in anger. And if exposure doesn’t work, they should be hammered with sanctions. He does not explain why sanctions, which disproportionately hurt the people he expects to rise up, will bring about any real change.

Stephens cites two of his buddies Ken Weinstein of the Hudson Institute and Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), who are apparently experts on how to squeeze Iran. Weinstein prefers exposing the misdeeds of the Mullahs to anger the Iranian people while Dubowitz prefers punitive sanctions “for corruption.”

The article does not reveal that Weinstein and Dubowitz are long time critics of Iran, are part of the Israel Lobby and just happen to be Jewish, as is Stephens. The Hudson Institute and the FDD are leading neocon and pro-Israel fronts. So my question becomes, “Why Iran?” The often-heard Israeli complaint about its being unfairly picked on could reasonably be turned on its head in asking the same about Iran. In fact, Iran compares favorably with Israel. It has no nuclear weapons, it does not support any of the Sunni terrorist groups that are chopping heads, and it has not disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of people that it rules over. The fact is that Iran is being targeted because Israel sees it as its prime enemy in the region and has corrupted many “opinion makers” in the U.S., to include Stephens, to hammer home that point. To be sure, Iran is a very corrupt place run by people who should not be running a hot dog stand, but the same applies to the United States and Israel. And there are lots of places that are not being targeted like Iran that are far worse, including good friend and ally of both Jerusalem and Washington, Saudi Arabia.

Oddly enough Stephens, Weinstein and Dubowitz do not get into any of that back story, presumably because it would be unseemly. And, of course and unfortunately, the New York Times opinion page is not unique. An interesting recent podcast interview by Politico‘s Chief International Affairs correspondent Susan Glasser with leading neoconservatives Eliot Cohen and Max Boot, is typical of how the media selectively shapes a narrative to suit its own biases. Glasser, Cohen and Boot are all part of the establishment foreign policy consensus in the U.S. and therefore both hate and fail to understand the Trump phenomenon. Both Cohen and Booth were vociferous founding members of the #NeverTrump foreign policy resistance movement.

Boot describes the new regime’s foreign policy as “kowtow[ing] to dictators and undermin[ing] American support for freedom and democracy around the world,” typical neocon leitmotifs. Glasser appears to be in love with her interviewees and hurls softball after softball. She describes Boot as “fantastic” and Cohen receives the epithet “The Great.” The interview itself is remarkably devoid of any serious discussion of foreign policy and is essentially a sustained assault on Trump while also implicitly supporting hardline national security positions. Cohen fulminates about “a very serious Russian attack on the core of our political system. I mean, I don’t know how you get more reckless and dangerous than that,” while Boot asks what “has to be done” about Iran.

Pompous ass Cohen, who interjected in the interview that “and you know, Max and I are both intellectuals,” notably very publicly refused to have any part in a Trump foreign policy team during the campaign but later when The Donald was actually elected suggested that the new regime might approach him with humility to offer a senior position and he just might condescend to join them. They did not do so, and he wrote an angry commentary on their refusal.

Hating Trump is one thing, but I would bet that if the question of a hardline policy vis-à-vis Russia or the Jerusalem Embassy move had come up Cohen and Boot would have expressed delight. The irony is that Trump is in fact pursuing a basically neocon foreign policy which the two men would normally support, but they appear to be making room for Trump haters in the policy formulation process to push the national security consensus even farther to the right. Indeed, in another article by Boot at Foreign Policy he writes “I applaud Trump’s decisions to provide Ukraine with arms to defend itself from Russian aggression, to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, to send additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, and to accelerate former President Barack Obama’s strategy for fighting the Islamic State.” Cohen meanwhile applauds the embassy move, though he warns that Trump’s success in so doing might embolden him to do something reckless over North Korea.

Perhaps one should not be astonished that leading neocons appearing in the mainstream media will continue to have their eyes on the ball and seek for more aggressive engagement in places like Iran and Russia. The media should be faulted because it rarely publishes any contrary viewpoint and it also consistently fails to give any space to the considerable downside to the agitprop. It must be reassuring for many Americans to know that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is preparing itself to deal with the aftermath of a nuclear attack on the United States and it will be sharing information on the appropriate preparations with the American people. There will be a public session on how to prepare for a nuclear explosion on January 16th.

CDC experts will consider “planning and preparation efforts” for such a strike. “While a nuclear detonation is unlikely, it would have devastating results and there would be limited time to take critical protection steps,” the Center elaborated in its press release on the event.

That the United States should be preparing for a possible nuclear future can in part be attributed to recent commentary by the “like, really smart” and “very stable genius” who is the nation’s chief executive, but the fuel being poured on the fire for war is from the very same neocons who are featured in the mainstream media as all-purpose experts and have succeeded in selling the snake oil about America’s proper role as aggressor-in-chief for the entire world. It would be an unparalleled delight to be able to open a newspaper and not see Bret Stephens, Eliot Cohen, Max Boot or even the redoubtable Bill Kristol grinning back from the editorial page, but I suppose I am only dreaming.

Philip M. Giraldi, Ph.D., is Executive Director of the Council for the National Interest, a 501(c)3 tax deductible educational foundation that seeks a more interests-based U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Website is http://www.councilforthenationalinterest.org, address is P.O. Box 2157, Purcellville VA 20134 and its email is inform@cnionline.org.

January 10, 2018 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Think Tank-Addicted Media Turn to Regime Change Enthusiasts for Iran Protest Commentary

By Adam Johnson | FAIR | January 5, 2018

Since the outbreak of mass demonstrations and unrest in Iran last week, US media have mostly busied themselves with the question of not if we should “do something,” but what, exactly, that something should be. As usual, it’s simply taken for granted the United States has a divine right to intervene in the affairs of Iran, under the vague blanket of “human rights” and “democracy promotion.” (The rare exception, such as an op-ed by ex-Obama official Philip Gordon—New York Times, 12/30/17—still accepted the premise of regime change: “I, too, want to see the government in Tehran weakened, moderated or even removed.”) With this axiom firmly established in Very Serious foreign policy circles, the next question becomes the nature, degree and scope of the “something” being done.

Leading the pack in the “do something” insta-consensus was the right-wing pro-Israel think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), which has overwhelmed the narrative. In the past five days, FDD has had op-eds in influential US outlets like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, New York Post and Politico, and has been quoted in a dozen more. Its punditry was marked by cynical “support” for Iranian protesters, demagoguing of the Iranian “regime” and disgust with the Obama-era Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran deal.

The scrapping of JCPOA has been the primary political charge of FDD for years, and it seems to see the recent unrest in Iran—and any subsequent crackdown—as the thin moral pretext it needs to justify snuffing out a treaty it’s long opposed. Thus FDD has eagerly jumped on the unrest, painting itself as the sigh of the oppressed.

Op-eds written or co-written by FDD staff in the past five days:

  • “Iran’s Theocracy Is on the Brink” (Mark Dubowitz/Ray Takeyh, Wall Street Journal, 1/1/18)
  • “Where We Can Agree on Iran” (Mark Dubowitz/Daniel Shapiro, Politico, 1/1/18)
  • “Eruption in Iran: And It’s Not Just the Economy, Stupid” (Clifford D. May, Washington Times, 1/2/18)
  • “The Worst Thing for Iran’s Protesters? US Silence” (Reuehl Marc Gerecht, New York Times, 1/2/18)
  • “What Washington Can Do to Support Iran’s Protesters” (Richard Goldberg/Jamie Fly, New York Post, 1/2/18)

A sampling of quotes by FDD staff in news reporting:

  • “Since Rouhani entered office, he has managed to inflate expectations with lofty rhetoric but has actually done little to change the reality of life on the ground in Iran,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, an Iran expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington.” (Washington Post, 12/30/17)
  • “‘Western governments should make it clear that the regime will be held responsible and will pay a price for any bloodshed,’ Mr. Dubowitz said.” (Wall Street Journal, 1/1/18)
  • “‘[Trump’s] not going to want to waive sanctions and keep money flowing to dictators when there are people protesting in the streets,’ said Richard Goldberg, a former Senate Republican aide who helped design Iran sanctions and is now a senior adviser at the hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracies.” (Politico, 1/2/18)
  • “‘If there is a bipartisan bill that is ready for congressional action, that would go a long way toward persuading the president to issue the waivers,’ said Mark Dubowitz, the chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. ‘If there’s not, what’s happening in Iran will give the president all the more reason to say, “I’ve had it with this deal.”’” (New York Times, 1/2/18)

FDD op-eds and quotes followed a similar formula: express outrage on behalf of the protesters, applaud Trump for his hypocritical defense of the right to protest, and push for increased sanctions against Iran—often while taking a swipe at the hated Iran deal.

FDD’s pro-Iranian people posture was rarely accompanied by an explanation of their ideological project. The outfit—funded by big-name pro-Israel billionaires like casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, Home Depot founder Bernard Marcus (who’s said that “Iran is the devil”) and Wall Street speculator Paul Singer—are  largely presented as bespectacled academics calling balls and strikes without a particular agenda beyond their self-proclaimed “defense of democracies.” (The name ought to provoke some skepticism, given the group’s eagerness to enlist the hereditary dictatorship Saudi Arabia in its anti-Iranian crusade—LobeLog, 2/26/16.)

This problem is not unique to FDD; as FAIR (8/12/16) has noted before, the overreliance by the media on deeply conflicted think tanks that present as neutral but are, in reality, glorified lobbyists for a political cause or corporate cohort misleads readers on an institutional scale. (In FDD’s case, it’s Israel’s right wing; for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, it’s weapons contractors—FAIR.org, 5/8/17, 7/17/17.)

FDD, it’s worth noting, also worked closely with the Trump administration and CIA to curate documents implicating Iran in the 9/11 attacks, as part of a broader anti-Iran strategy that rogue DoJ lawyers spelled out in November in leaks to the Washington Post (11/17/17; FAIR.org, 11/24/17).

Reuel Marc Gerecht

FDD’s Reuel Marc Gerecht has had stints at PNAC, AEI and the CIA

Occasionally, editors will note they are “conservative” or “hawkish,” but FDD is mostly presented as a quasi-academic and impartial observer. The average reader, for example, would probably be surprised to find out the FDD “fellow” expressing concern for The Iranian People™ in the Times, Reuel Marc Gerecht, has long joked about wanting to bomb these same Iranians. As Eli Clifton noted in LobeLog (1/4/18), in 2010 Gerecht quipped: “Counted up the other day: I’ve written about 25,000 words about bombing Iran. Even my mom thinks I’ve gone too far.”

Shouldn’t someone so self-admittedly obsessed with killing Iranians be disqualified from posing as their protector in a major US newspaper? Failing that, shouldn’t readers be alerted that Gerecht was the director in the late ’90s of the Middle East Initiative at the Project for the New American Century—the most prominent advocacy group for the invasion of Iraq, a war that left 500,000 to a million dead?

Think tank addiction for overworked and often myopic reporters and editors has rendered such glaring questions unaskable. FDD are the “experts,” and the “experts” are needed to drive the bulk of commentary, regardless of their well-documented ulterior motives.

January 6, 2018 Posted by | Deception, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Iran’s regime faces moment of truth

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | January 3, 2018

An unexpected side effect of the ongoing unrest in Iran is that it will consolidate the Turkish-Iranian entente in regional politics. The Turkish leadership has openly reached out to President Hassan Rouhani. Following up on the contact between the two foreign ministers on Tuesday and the statement by the Turkish Foreign Ministry, President Recep Erdogan telephoned Rouhani today to express Turkey’s solidarity.

While talking to a group of editors in Ankara today, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu gently ticked off the US and Israel saying, “There are only two [world] figures who support protestors: Trump and Netanyahu. We are against such foreign interventions.” Cavusoglu added, “I have not seen any other world leader making such supportive statements. You may not like the regime but Iran’s president and government, apart from the religious leader, can only be changed through elections. And there are no objections about the security of elections [in Iran].”

Turkey did not have to go this far but it senses an imperative need to intervene. Turkey’s main concern will be Iran’s stability. Having said that, although Turkey is voicing open support for Iran in the current difficult period, it cannot be oblivious of the strong undercurrents playing out in Iran’s political economy. Erdogan has shown empathy for Rouhani’s approach – allowing the protests to take place peacefully without any intimidation by the state security agencies but effectively curbing any violent incidents. Rouhani told Erdogan that he hoped that the protests would end “within a few days.”

Even so, this ought to be a moment of truth for the Iranian regime. For the first time, perhaps, the unrest is largely among the downtrodden people who are losing hope in a better future under the existing regime. There is widespread resentment among poor people that the resources of the country are siphoned off by the ruling elites. The draft budget that was presented to the Majlis last month itself flagged a shocking misallocation of resources – Al-Mustafa International University (which propagates Shi’ism worldwide) has a budget that exceeds the combined budgetary allocation for the Ministry of Roads and Urban Development, Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the National Organization for Food and Drug.

There were high expectations among the poor people that following the signing of the nuclear deal in July 2015, the economic conditions would improve. They were jubilant when Zarif returned home after the nuclear deal and spontaneously thronged the airport to receive him. But two years down the line, these hopes have been dashed. The bazaar gossip is that billions of dollars in blocked funds lying in western banks that were returned to post-sanctions Iran have either been squandered away in overseas enterprises (Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, etc.) or simply misappropriated by the religious establishment.

The current unrest is doomed to fizzle out. The absence of middle class (which is in the vanguard of all revolutions in history) guarantees it. Again, the lack of leadership among protestors would mean that “fatigue” would set in sooner or later. The wretched of the earth do not have the luxury to protest till eternity instead of eking out their daily livelihood to keep body and soul together.

What is the way forward? The people, clearly, want “change”. Arguably, they no longer have faith in the so-called “reformists”, either. On the other hand, Rouhani faces dogged opposition from entrenched interest groups who masquerade as “conservatives” or “principlists”. If the protests in 2009 (led by the middle class) were about political empowerment and had a narrow social base, this time around, the demand is ‘Where is my money?’ and the social base lies among the the downtrodden sections of society. Shockingly enough, the cry “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) was conspicuous by its absence throughout this turmoil, although it has been the signal tune of Iranian street politics ever since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

The regime may be right up to a point in alleging that there has been foreign interference. But, hopefully, it will not become the alibi for postponing reforms. Certainly, the regime is in no immediate danger. But a challenging period lies ahead. Iran has crucial choices to make. Iran’s foreign policies should become an extension of its national policies, attuned to its development agenda – economic growth, job creation and alleviation of poverty – and to the creation of a just society. Geopolitics is not the priority for Iran today – it is nation-building.

January 3, 2018 Posted by | Economics | , , , | 2 Comments

2018 will see US fighting three and a half wars in Middle East

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | December 31, 2017

At a ‘press gaggle’ at the Pentagon on Friday, US Defence Secretary James Mattis revealed that there isn’t going to be any withdrawal from the Syrian conflict. The Trump administration, on the contrary, plans to expand the presence by deploying diplomats and contractors to the north of Syria. Mattis called this a shift “from what I would call an offensive, terrain-seizing approach to a stabilizing” one.

That is to say, he explained, while the diplomats would work toward the “initial restoration of services” and to manage and administer rebuilding cities, the Pentagon will “bring in contractors” for training people on how to clear IEDs” (improvised explosive devices), etc. and alongside there will be a continuing military component to the US presence that “would move our diplomats around, protect them.” Mattis insisted that there is a “demarcation line” separating the US military zone in north and northeastern Syria, which the “Russian regime” and Syrian government are well aware of and are tacitly respecting so far.

Evidently, the US will continue its alliance with the Syrian Kurdish militia (known as YPG) in northern Syria, including the supply of weapons. The US defense spending bill for 2018 has made provision for sending weapons worth $393 million to US partners in Syria. Overall, $500 million, which is an increase of $70 million over 2016) is the allocation for Syria under ‘Train and Equip’ requirements. The budget mentions the opposition forces supported as a part of the train and equip program in Syria as 25,000 strong. The figure will now go up to 30,000 in 2018. Besides, the US and British military are training several hundred militants to create a New Syrian Army to fight the Syrian government forces in the south. (According to Russian estimates, most of the recruits are from ISIS and al-Qaeda groups.)

To be sure, the US’ ‘regime change’ agenda in Syria is back on track. But the Syrian conflict is also transforming as another template of a broader regional confrontation with Iran (and Russia) in the Middle East. The petard of Iran is useful to encourage the Sunni Arab petrodollar states to bankroll the war and overall make the US military interventions in the Middle East to be “self-financing”. (Mattis said, “We’ve got a lot of money coming from international donors for this, including Syria.”)

Meanwhile, this also means that the wars in Syria and Yemen are going to get fused at the hips, as it were. While the Obama administration was inclined to acknowledge that Iran’s interference in the war in Yemen, if at all, has been very minimal, the Trump administration has swung to the other extreme and brands the war as quintessentially a manifestation of Iran’s expansionist policies in the region. This creates the raison d’etre for more direct US intervention in the war in Yemen.

That makes it two full-bodied wars. Then, there is half a war to be added, which is in the nature of the Trump administration’s agenda to generally push back at Iran anywhere and everywhere (eg., Iraq, Lebanon), and, if possible, to bring about a ‘regime change’ in Tehran. According to a report in the Jerusalem Post last week, the US and Israel have set up 4 working groups to advance their “joint work plan” against Iran. This decision has been taken apparently at a secret meeting at the White House in Washington two weeks ago and will be put into the pipeline in 2018.

These two and a half wars become three and a half wars if we are also to add the Afghan war, which is entering its 17th year in 2018. The US has upped the ante by seeking a military solution to the Afghan war, disregarding the saner advice that a political solution is the best way out. The big question is whether 2018 will witnesses a US-Pakistani showdown.

A report in the New York Times on Friday hinted at the Trump administration “strongly considering whether to withhold $255 million in aid that it had delayed sending to Islamabad… as a show of dissatisfaction with Pakistan’s broader intransigence toward confronting the terrorist networks that operate there.” Evidently, the US’ capacity to leverage Pakistani policies is touching rock bottom. The next step could be to deliver on the threat to punish Pakistan. If that happens, there will be hell to pay.

Indeed, in the above cauldron, one hasn’t included the succession in Saudi Arabia, which can likely happen during 2018; the growing instability in Egypt; the continuing anarchy in Libya; or the Saudi-Qatar rift and the consequent unraveling of the GCC. Who says the US is about to cut loose from the Middle East and escape to the ‘Indo-Pacific’? Do not overlook that an overarching priority of the US’ Middle East strategy is also to evict Russia from the region as it managed to do in the early 1970s so as to contain the bear in its lair in Eurasia.

December 31, 2017 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

US, Israel in ‘covert’ deal to counter Iran after it defeats their extremist groups

Sputnik – December 30, 2017

A US National Security Council (NSC) source has confirmed to Sputnik that Tel Aviv and Washington have worked out a plan to counter “malign Iranian activities.” Speaking to Radio Sputnik, Mohammad Marandi, a political analyst and professor at the University of Tehran, explained why the US and Israel are so hostile towards Iran.

Sputnik: What is your take on the so-called Iranian threat that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump are looking to confront now? What could they be truly trying to achieve by demonizing Iran?

Mohammad Marandi: They have always been demonizing Iran; they have always [harbored] hostility towards the country. When the Israeli regime occupied Lebanon and the Iranians supported the national liberation movement which ultimately led to the creation of Hezbollah, that led to the ultimate defeat of the regime and its withdrawal from the country. And Iran took support for Palestinian people and Iran’s opposition from the beginning of the revolution to apartheid, whether in apartheid South Africa or in Palestine. That was also an enormous reason to show antagonism towards Iran.

I think more recently, though, Israeli support for extremist groups in Syria, this was carried out alongside countries like Saudi Arabia. Even now we see that al-Qaeda, the al-Nusra Front, is still [located alongside] the Syrian-Israeli border and the Israeli regime continues to treat their wounded militants. And on that part of the joint border we still have ISIS (Daesh) and as we all know the Israelis have never attacked the ISIS (Daesh) coalition alongside its border.

So, the Israelis have been trying to weaken Syria and I think that over the last couple of years with the help of Hezbollah, Russia, Iran and others the gradual defeat of the extremist groups both in Syria and Iraq have led to a situation where the Israelis feel weakened. But I don’t think that any meetings between the United States and Israel will come up with anything new because they have been cooperating all along alongside with Saudi Arabia for many years now.

Sputnik: The plan also aims to target Iran’s activities across the Middle East. So, if implemented, what consequences could it entail for the region in local conflicts?       

Mohammad Marandi: Yes, this is again, I think, a very important point because it’s contrary to what we see in the Western media, which is usually either silence or a very misleading representation. US allies in the region, alongside the United States, supported ISIS [Daesh]. Even though, I still speak to some Americans [and they express] outrage. If you look at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) documents of 2012 that were partially released by Judicial Watch, they speak about US allies in the region supporting extremist groups in Syria and [they] have had the upper hand according to that document, from almost the very beginning of the fighting. And these groups were focused on the border between Syria and Iraq.

We know that later on, those groups were named ISIS, or they called themselves even after that Islamic State. And the United States, according to General [Michael] Flynn [former DIA director and former national security adviser to President Trump] who was the head of that organization [DIA] — later in an interview with Al Jazeera he admitted — that the United States took a willful decision to support its allies in the region. And there is a host of other evidence as well, such as WikiLeaks documents and emails which stated that Saudi Arabia and others supported ISIS in 2014. So then, of course, we have the admission of former US Secretary of State [John] Kerry who had a secret meeting with Syrian opposition activists admitted that the United States allowed ISIS to advance on Damascus in order to put pressure on President Assad.

So, the United States is deeply involved in allowing ISIS to rise; they were deeply involved in, of course, al-Qaeda, the al-Nusra Front, […] And, of course, Israel, as I’ve pointed out, has been involved in supporting al-Qaeda and has been silent regarding the presence of ISIS on its border. So, Iran has helped the Syrian government to defeat extremist groups. Of course, the Russians, Hezbollah, all of these countries, all of these groups together [won] this victory over extremism and if Syria had fallen, without any doubt Iraq would had fallen.

Iraq was on the verge of falling despite the fact that ISIS had a large number of troops fighting the Syrian government. If they had defeated the Syrian government, they would have sent a lot more troops into Iraq and it would have fallen. And of course Lebanon would have faced a very new and dangerous situation with these extremists. So Iran’s support for the Iraqi government and the Syrian government helped defeat these extremist groups and this is a major point of contention between Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia and, of course, the United States. […]

 

December 30, 2017 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, War Crimes, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Clean Break II: Iran Hawks Decide to Burn It All Down

By Derek Davison and Jim Lobe | LobeLog | December 27, 2017

The 20th century was rife with partitions, many of them involving European powers carving up colonial possessions in Africa and the Middle East with what often appears to have been little or no concern for local realities. Perhaps the most famous of these free-hand attempts at state creation is the Sykes-Picot Line, whose legacy is very much still with us (and not for the better). But Sykes-Picot is far from the only example of European colonial borders that are still causing problems decades after they were drawn.

But who cares about all of that? It doesn’t seem to be an issue for at least some of America’s anti-Iran hawks. In response to Iran’s rising profile in the Middle East, fueled mostly by a war those neocons ardently championed and the striking ineptitude of the hawks’ new favorite Persian Gulf monarchy, the intellectual heirs to the men who drew those ill-fated borders are proposing, long after it might have done any good, to re-draw them.

Writing for Fox News on December 25, Michael Makovsky—who is no fringe figure, being CEO of the neoconservative Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA)—suggests just such a strategy for countering Iranian influence in the Middle East:

Maintaining Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen in their existing forms is unnatural and serves Iran’s interests. There is nothing sacred about these countries’ borders, which seem to have been drawn by a drunk and blindfolded mapmaker. Indeed, in totally disregarding these borders, ISIS and Iran both have already demonstrated the anachronism and irrelevance of the borders.

Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen are not nation-states as Americans understand them, but rather post-World War I artificial constructs, mostly created out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire in a colossally failed experiment by western leaders.

With their deep ethno-sectarian fissures, these four countries have either been held together by a strong authoritarian hand or suffered sectarian carnage.

It is astonishing to read neoconservatives, who have done little else since the 1970s but lobby for exerting American hegemony in the Middle East, decry the results of the exertion of European hegemony in the Middle East. It reads like an artificial intelligence that just briefly verges on full self-awareness before pivoting and falling back to safer ground. It’s particularly rich for Makovsky, whose JINSA predecessors promoted the ouster of two of those “strong authoritarian hands” in former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, to bemoan one result of their ouster.

But let’s focus on the proposal Makovsky makes: redrawing borders in the Middle East, creating what he calls “loose confederations or new countries with more borders that more naturally conform along sectarian lines,” in order to counter Iran. The proposal strongly resembles recommendations found in “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” a 1996 publication of the Jerusalem-based Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies that was prepared in collaboration with several other neoconservative think tanks—including JINSA.

“A Clean Break,” the conclusion of a task force that included such Likudnik geniuses as Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and David Wurmser, argued in part that Israel should work with friendly governments in Turkey and Jordan to contain regional threats, particularly coming from Syria. It concluded, among other things, that Israeli leaders should pursue “removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq-an important objective in its own right-as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions.” “Syria” in this context serves as a stand-in for “Iran.” Long-term, the report envisioned the formation of a “natural axis” of Israel, Turkey, Jordan, and a “Hashemite” Iraq serving as “the prelude to a redrawing of the map of the Middle East, which could threaten Syria’s territorial integrity.”

Even a cursory glance at the state of the Middle East since the end of the Iraq War shows that ousting Saddam Hussein achieved the opposite of the report’s stated goals. The idea of a Hashemite restoration in Shia-majority Iraq was ridiculously far-fetched, and Iraq’s democratically-elected government has–justifiably–greatly improved the Baghdad-Tehran relationship. Makovsky, who wants to reverse this trend, argues that the United States should “declare our support and strong military aid for an eventual Iraqi Kurdish state, once its warring factions unify and improve governance. We could support a federation for the rest of Iraq.”

In Makovsky’s imagination, the new Kurd-less Iraqi federation would presumably wish Erbil well and send it on its way. In reality, another serious Kurdish move toward independence would probably lead to a civil war, as it nearly did in October over the status of Kirkuk. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s first foreign trip after his dramatic capture of Kirkuk was… to Iran. If the United States were to come out in full support of an independent Kurdistan, it would almost certainly push the rest of Iraq more firmly into Iran’s orbit. Speaking of Kirkuk, does Makovsky imagine that independent Kurdistan would be given the city and its surrounding oil fields? If yes, then that only increases the chances of a war with Baghdad. If no, then there are serious questions about whether that hypothetical Kurdish state would be economically viable.

For Syria, Makovsky says that “we could seek a more ethnically coherent loose confederation or separate states that might balance each other – the Iranian-dominated Alawites along the coast, the Kurds in the northeast, and the Sunni Arabs in the heartland.” He might want to check a recent map of Syria, because while “heartland” is obviously a subjective term, by almost any definition Syria’s “heartland” now belongs to President Basher al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies. This includes the country’s five largest (pre-war) cities: Aleppo, Damascus, Homs, Latakia, and Hama. How does Makovsky propose any of that territory be taken from Assad so as to be turned over to “Sunni Arabs,” even in a confederate sense? If the answer is “war,” then his Fox News thinkpiece is burying the lede to say the least.

Makovsky then recommends that the U.S. strengthen relations with Shia-majority Azerbaijan, in order to “demonstrate we are not anti-Shia Muslim.” Yes, that should do the trick. Of course, that’s not the only reason:

An added potential benefit of this approach could be a fomenting of tensions within Iran, which has sizable Kurdish and Azeri populations, thereby weakening the radical regime in Tehran.

You might even say that it could threaten Iran’s territorial integrity. Make a Clean Break, if you will.

The dangers of the United States trying to redraw Middle Eastern borders—Makovsky graciously allows that America “cannot dictate the outcomes” but should instead “influence” them—should be obvious. For one thing, there’s the immediate likelihood that attempting to draw new borders would intensify regional instability. For another, there’s little reason to expect that the United States would get the new borders any more “right” than Britain and France did a century ago, particularly not when the process is being managed by the same people who brought us the invasion of Iraq. For still another, the most recent example of such Western “influenced” partitioning isn’t exactly a positive one.

But we can’t leave Makovsky’s piece without mentioning its most jaw-dropping paragraph (emphasis ours):

Artificial states have been divided or loosened before with some success, such as the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, which are all post-WWI formations. Bosnia and Herzegovina have also managed as a confederation.

Czechoslovakia divided peacefully of its own accord. The Soviet Union more or less did likewise, though that dissolution hasn’t been quite so peaceful in recent years. As for Yugoslavia—well, maybe Dr. Makovsky’s definition of “success” is a bit different from most other people’s. To be fair, though, if the breakup of Yugoslavia is his template for the future of the Middle East, this piece makes a lot more sense.

But if Makovsky believes in federalizing existing Middle Eastern states along “ethno-sectarian” lines, why not start with Israel and the Occupied Territories, a notion that would seem logical to any 21st century mapmaker? After all, occupation of one people by another via a “strong authoritarian hand”—in this case the IDF—would seem to be a prescription for a “colossally failed experiment,” no? Perhaps Makovsky’s experience as a former West Bank settler may make it difficult for him to see the relevance.

December 29, 2017 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes, Wars for Israel | , , , , | Leave a comment

Israel Ready for ‘A Very Violent War’

By Jeremy Salt | Palestine Chronicle | December 28, 2017

‘Violence is not the way.’ How often did we hear Tony Blair say it? We know that violence should not be the way but we know that it is often is. The ‘we’ definitely does not include Blair, an architect of extreme violence in the Middle East. We know from history that violent states can often leave the peaceful with nothing left but violence to stop them going any further. This is the paradoxical trap in human behavior: the violent can ultimately impose violence on the peaceful.

We would be deluding ourselves if we think that such a point has not been reached with Israel or has not been almost reached; we have to leave open the slim possibility that somehow it will come to its senses and do what it could have done decades ago, make peace with the Palestinians and through them with the Arab and Muslim worlds and, in fact, with the world in general, but this does not seem likely.

The Zionist leaders knew from the beginning that the only way they could take Palestine would be through war. Jabotinsky was blunt about it, Ben-Gurion honest only in his private correspondence: only by fire and sword could Israel be created out of Palestine and having stepped on this path Israel has never stepped off it.

Over seven decades it has waged war after war:  against the Palestinians, against Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia, against any state, organisation or individual that gets in its way. It has massacred, assassinated and bombed ambulances, hospitals, schools, UN compounds and apartment blocks. It has never shown concern for the human lives it takes: on the contrary, one of its pilots even joked when asked how he felt when firing a missile at an apartment building in Gaza.   His reply was that he felt a ‘slight tremor’ in the wings of his plane.

Over the years Israel’s rabbis and generals have declared all Palestinians as the enemy or as cancers, snakes and cockroaches to be crushed or cut out. The Palestinian enemy even includes the children not yet born, giving Golda Meir nightmares when she went to bed, not knowing how many Palestinians might have been born by the time she woke up.

These frightful sentiments are reflected on the street and in the mainstream culture, in polls showing hatred of Palestinians, even amongst schoolchildren, and in the unending violence of West Bank settlers. The soldiers and border police who protect these settlers do what they like, knowing they will not be punished, or punished so lightly that the punishment only adds insult to injury to the victim and his/her family. The murder of Abd al Fatah al Sharif as he lay wounded in the streets of Hebron last year and the recent murder by a sniper of the wheelchair-bound Ibrahim Abu Thuraya, whose legs were severed by an Israeli missile strike on Gaza in 2008,  are not brutal anomalies but entirely consistent with Israel’s violent history.

Destroying the enemy before he becomes too strong has been Israel’s guiding maxim since 1948. Egypt was kept off balance by repeated attacks across the armistice line before the tripartite aggression of 1956. That failed because of the intervention of the US once British treachery was revealed. Israel then reverted to more attacks across the armistice line before the attack of 1967 on Egypt and Syria.  The myth of invincibility lasted only until the first week of the 1973 war, during which Israel’s forces were routed in Sinai. Had Sadat not betrayed Hafez al Assad they would have been driven off the Golan Heights as well, but that still would have left the probability of direct intervention by the US to save Israel from the consequences of its own folly.

This was the last war Israel fought against a regular army. Its ‘wars’ on Lebanon and Gaza were no more than military onslaughts on a mostly defenseless population and even then it could not win them. Gaza has managed to stand upright despite the carnage of Israel’s attacks and in Lebanon the uprooting of the PLO in 1982 only cleared the way for a Shia resistance taking political and military shape in the form of Hezbollah.  By 2000 this guerrilla army had driven the Zionists out of southern Lebanon and in 2006 it heaped further humiliation on them when they returned, which brings us to considerations of the present situation.

The first is that Israel’s geopolitical situation is not what it was. The days when Israel could call on the sympathy of the world, as an allegedly beleaguered little state threatened with extinction, have long since gone. With the exception of the US and its hangers-on, the world knows what Israel is, a bully.

In the Middle East Israel’s geopolitical situation is not what it was either. The treaties it has signed with Egypt and Jordan are moribund. The popular antagonism to Israel in both countries is as strong now as the day these treaties were signed, and probably even stronger following Trump’s inflammatory statement, the killing of Ibrahim Abu Thuraya and the powerful stand taken by a Palestinian teenager, Ahad Tamimi, in slapping the face of a Zionist soldier.

Militarily, Israel’s decline could be charted on a graph. The slide since 1967 has been slow but continuous. Yes, Israel has nuclear weapons and intermittently sends out signals that it is prepared to use them, as it did in 1973. Yes, it has supreme air power but even this has not been sufficient to give it the victories it wants and as Israel’s intelligence and military chiefs know, Israel’s enemies are working all the time on the means of countering Israel’s technological superiority. The Zionist media might jeer at Hasan Nasrallah but Israel’s military commanders do not.

Israel has tried to destroy Hezbollah but has failed. It has tried to intimidate Iran through the assassination of its scientists and repeated threats of military attack but it has failed, even with the additional weapon of US sanctions. The law of unintended consequences has prevailed: the attempt to destroy Syria has also failed, ultimately, despite the massive destruction and loss of life, and so has the attempt to destroy Iraq, which is regaining its shattered unity under a Shia-dominant government close to Iran and sympathetic to Hezbollah. The collapse of Kurdish secessionism is another blow to Israel. The obverse of these failures is the growing military strength of Hezbollah and Iran, far greater now than a decade ago.

It is for these reasons that the Middle East is facing perhaps the most dangerous moment in its modern history. Psychologically, strategically, Israel cannot allow the present situation to continue unchecked, cannot allow Hezbollah and Iran to grow even stronger in the coming years. It must reassert its military dominance and all the signals pouring out of the political and military establishment indicate that after a year of intensive preparations it is ready to go. The target will be Lebanon, which Israel’s propagandists are portraying as no more than a Hezbollah enclave manipulated by Iran, which Israel will want to draw into the conflict. The war will be one of massive destruction, with Israel’s ministers differing only on whether Lebanon is to be bombed back to the Stone Age (Yisrael Katz) or the Middle Ages (Naftali Bennett).

Israel’s war preparations in the past year include the biggest land maneuvers for two decades. Held in northern occupied Palestine right on the armistice line with Lebanon the ‘Light on the Grain’ maneuvers in September, 2017, began with the evacuation of civilians in the region. An estimated 30,000-40,000 soldiers and reservists were involved, in 20 brigades, with jet fighters, helicopters, drones, submarines, gunboats and patrol boats providing backup and reconnaissance for troops on the ground. Electronic warfare, the use of robot fighters in tunnels and mock battles with soldiers wearing ‘enemy’ uniforms and carrying fake explosive belts were all on the agenda. The exercises were based on the assumption of a ten-day war with Hezbollah. According to Walid Sukkariya, a retired Lebanese general and member of parliament, the number of soldiers deployed indicated the deployment of 150,000 troops in a real war.

In November, 2017, the largest aerial exercise in Israel’s history was held in southern occupied Palestine. This multilateral two-week ‘Blue Flag’ exercise involved about 1000 pilots from nine countries, including, for the first time in the history of such maneuvers, Germany. Hundreds of jet fighters flew an estimated 1000 missions from the Uvda base as the ‘blue’ forces ‘attacked’ the ‘red alliance’, an unspecified enemy whose pilots, however, were all given an Arabic name.  Helicopters, drones and UAVs were used: electronic warfare was central to the maneuvers, as was the assumption that the ‘enemy’ would be armed with SAMs and MANPAD missile launchers.

Offshore, Cyprus has been used by Israel as it prepares for its next war. In March, 2017, Israel and the government of southern Cyprus staged the three-day ‘Onsilos-Gedeon’ military maneuvers in and over a large area around Nicosia. In June an estimated 500 Israeli soldiers, many from the ‘elite’ Egoz unit, along with 100 soldiers from the Cypriot National Guard took part in a two- week war exercise in the Troodos mountains, where the terrain is similar to southern Lebanon. The combat involved ‘fighting’ above and below ground, fighting in dense bush in mountainous terrain and airborne maneuvers night and day. The aerial component included five Israeli squadrons, C130 transport planes, Blackhawk helicopters and Unit 669, whose core mission is to rescue pilots and soldiers trapped behind enemy lines.

In late October, 2017, Cypriot-Israeli military ‘cooperation’ moved to southern occupied Palestine, where soldiers from the Cypriot National Guard and the Egoz unit staged exercises held over two weeks at the Tzeelim military base. The focus was on urban warfare in the setting of a mock ‘Arab’ town.

These ongoing military maneuvers are part of a new strategic (military and commercial) axis developing in the eastern Mediterranean between Israel, Cyprus and Greece and drawing in other countries because of the lucrative profits that will eventually come from the deep sea natural gas deposits drilled by southern Cyprus in its Aphrodite field and Israel in its Leviathan and Tamar fields 140 kms from the coast of occupied Palestine. Haifa.

The military engagement with Israel and the holding of maneuvers on Cypriot soil which, for Israel, are clearly directed at an ‘Arab’ enemy, have caused consternation in the ranks of the Cypriot opposition. In June the Akel party noted that the Troodos mountains had been chosen for their similarity to the topography of southern Lebanon. It said the exercises had involved Cyprus in dangerous war games ‘with an army that has been an occupying power for 50 years in the Palestinian territories.’ The militarization of cooperation with Israel was dangerous to Cyprus and regional peace.

The scale of these exercises leaves no room for doubt that Israel is not merely upgrading and monitoring its military preparedness but actively preparing for war. The alarm bells have been sounding continuously for the past year: according to Channel Two, given access to Israeli positions along the armistice line with Lebanon, Israel is preparing for ‘a very violent war.’ Already in 2008 the then head of the Zionist military’s northern command, now the chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot, presented the ‘Dahiya doctrine’, focusing on the massive damage that would be done in areas associated with Hezbollah. According to Eisenkot: ‘In every village from which Israel is fired upon we will apply disproportionate force against it and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint these are not civilian villages, they are military bases. This is not a recommendation. It is a plan and it has been approved.’

Dahiya, of course, was the largely Shia suburb of Beirut pulverized from the air by Israel in 2006. Others think the ‘doctrine’ should be applied even more widely. In the words of education minister Naftali Bennett, uttered in March, 2017, ‘The Lebanese institutions, its infrastructure, airports, power stations, traffic junctions, Lebanese army bases, they should all be legitimate targets if a war breaks out. That’s what we should already be saying to them and they would know that if Hezbollah fires missiles at the Israeli home front this will mean sending Lebanon back to the Middle Ages.’ From Bennett this is not empty rhetoric. After all, in 1996 it was he who called in the artillery barrage that killed more than 100 people, half of them children, in the UN compound at Qana, southern Lebanon; ‘I am proud of how I functioned during operation Grapes of Wrath’, he remarked later. ‘Leave the warriors alone.’ After all, again, it was Bennett who once said ‘I have killed lots of Arabs in my life and there is no problem with that.

According to intelligence minister Yisrael Katz, speaking this December with a Saudi newspaper, ‘What happened in 2006 will be a picnic compared to what we can do now. I remember a Saudi minister saying they will send Hezbollah back to their caves in southern Lebanon. I am telling you that we will return Lebanon to the Stone Age … and bury Nasrallah under the rocks.’  These are genocidal threats, plain and simple, and both Iran and Hezbollah are preparing for the onslaught. Hezbollah has already said it has missiles that can reach any part of occupied Palestine and has hinted that ports and refineries would be among the targets in any coming war.

Nasrallah’s response to these threats, made in his address marking the 10th of Ashura in October this year, warrants attention because he is not a man to indulge in idle talk. This was a long speech in which he distinguished Judaism from Zionism, in which he said the Jews brought to Palestine from all over the world were cannon fodder in a British-western colonialist war against the Arabic and Muslim people of the region and were still serving as fuel for US policies.

Addressing ‘Jewish scholars, their eminent personalities, their thinkers’ he warned that Netanyahu is leading ‘your people’ in Palestine to annihilation and destruction. He was working with Trump to tear up the agreement with Iran and push the region into a new war but neither he nor his government and military officials had an accurate picture of what awaited them if they started another war. ‘That is why I call first of all on Jews except the Zionists to detach their considerations from Zionist calculations which will only lead them to their final destruction. I call on all those who came into occupied Palestine believing the promises that they would find the land of milk and honey, I call on them to leave Palestine and go back to the countries from which they came so they do not become mere fuel in any war to which the stupid Netanyahu will lead them. For if Netanyahu launches a war in this region there may be no more time for them to leave Palestine and there may be no safe place for them in occupied Palestine.’ Such a war could bring about ‘the end of all things for you and for the Zionist entity.’

This was possibly the strongest and most direct speech Nasrallah has ever made. The confidence in what he had to say suggests that Hezbollah has attained or developed weaponry that Israel may find it hard to counter. The speech indicates that after more than seven decades, Nasrallah fully understands that the conflict with Israel is rapidly moving towards the existential level of either/or: either Hezbollah will be destroyed and Iran crippled or Israel will suffer blows of such magnitude as to threaten its survival. Right now this may seem improbable but history is nothing if not a trickster, especially for those who make their calculations on the basis of power they will never lose. For either side defeat is not an option: Israel is preparing to fight a war of unprecedented savagery to finish off its enemies and they are ready to defend themselves and (as Nasrallah has warned) take the war into enemy territory. This seems close to the point at which we now stand, without anyone in the ‘international community’ putting on the brakes to stop the momentum towards war.

– Jeremy Salt taught at the University of Melbourne, at Bosporus University in Istanbul and Bilkent University in Ankara for many years, specializing in the modern history of the Middle East. Among his recent publications is his 2008 book, The Unmaking of the Middle East. A History of Western Disorder in Arab Lands (University of California Press).

December 28, 2017 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | 6 Comments

Flashback to 2011: Asma Assad: A Rose in the Desert

By Richard Edmondson | Fig Trees and Vineyards | December 27, 2017

The article below was initially published in Vogue Magazine in early 2011. I am re-posting it here as it provides a striking look back at Syria as it was just prior to the outbreak of the neocon-instigated regime-change war which so devastated the country.

Asma Assad, the wife of President Bashar Assad, is a woman of grace and beauty, and it’s probably not surprising that a fashion magazine would have decided to publish an article on her. But after the article appeared, Vogue, along with Joan Juliet Buck, the writer of the piece, were attacked by certain mainstream media outlets, such as The Atlantic, presumably for not sufficiently demonizing the Syrian government.

“Asma al-Assad has British roots, wears designer fashion, worked for years in banking, and is married to the dictator Bashar al-Assad, whose regime has killed over 5,000 civilians and hundreds of children this year,” wrote Max Fisher in a sarcastically-worded lead paragraph for The Atlantic.

Fisher also criticized Vogue’s “fawning treatment of the Assad family and its portrayal of the regime as tolerant and peaceful,” noting that this treatment had “generated surprise and outrage in much of the Washington foreign policy community.”

The article by Buck had appeared in Vogue’s February 2011 issue. The Syrian regime-change operation got underway in March, a month later, when protests broke out in Daraa. And the timing of the two probably was nothing more than coincidental.

But of course the neocons in the State Department would have already begun executing their scheme, and a media vilification campaign would have been deemed necessary, or at any rate helpful, in greasing the wheels–and the sudden appearance of the Vogue article (the magazine reportedly has over 11 million readers) probably was looked upon as something of a monkey wrench in the plans. You could think of it as one of the rare moments that a mainstream media organ stepped out of bounds.

Fisher, who now holds a position with the New York Times, went on to kvetch that “the glowing article praised the Assads as a ‘wildly democratic’ family-focused couple who vacation in Europe, foster Christianity, are at ease with American celebrities, made theirs the ‘safest country in the Middle East,’ and want to give Syria a ‘brand essence.’”

It is of course true that the Assads “foster Christianity,” as Fisher contemptuously puts it (indeed–you can go here to see a video I posted two years ago of the first couple attending a Christmas service at a church in Damascus in 2015), but of course it would not do to have this kind of information put out in the mainstream just before the launch of a long-planned regime change operation.

Other mainstream media attacks upon Vogue came from Gawker, where writer John Cook also accused the publication of “fawning”; the New York Times, which published a piece headlined “The Balance of Charm and Reality“; and Slate, whose writer, Noreen Malone, damned Vogue for paying “besotted compliments” to the Assads and for “unwittingly exacerbating” a “modern day Marie Antoinette problem.”

Buck should now be proud of the mainstream media attacks upon her work–but aside from this, her article, as I say, is important also in that it provides a valuable glimpse into life in the country just before the outset of the war.

Syria, she notes, was known as “the safest country in the Middle East.” Buck was roundly excoriated for making this observation, but certainly at the time, in 2011, it was true in spades: Syria was eminently safer than either US-occupied Iraq or Israeli-occupied Palestine.

Buck also notes that Syria is “a place without bombings, unrest, or kidnappings”–which would have run completely counter to the narrative of Assad being the ubiquitous “brutal dictator who kills his own people” and who serves as a “magnet to jihadis”–but perhaps most noteworthy of all are Buck’s revelations about programs set up for children in the country.

When I visited Syria in 2014, one of the things I heard about were Asma Assad’s charity efforts on behalf of children, so it was not surprising for me, upon reading the Vogue article, to learn of Massar, an organization founded by the First Lady and “built around a series of discovery centers,” or to learn that at these centers children and young adults, ages five to twenty-one, were taught “creative, informal approaches to civic responsibility.”

Buck also tells of Asma’s jaunts around the country visiting local schools and interacting with children in what seems to have been a very life-fulfilling manner.

All of this, of course, would have come to a dramatic halt, or a dramatic curtailment at any rate, when the nightmare began and the country suddenly found itself invaded by armies of US-backed terrorists.

Another fascinating aspect of the article is what it reveals regarding Asma’s contributions toward safeguarding Syria’s cultural heritage. While in Syria I attended, along with several members of the staff of Veterans Today, an anti-terrorism conference held at the Dama Rose Hotel in Damascus. Among the subjects discussed at the conference were the ongoing attacks upon cultural heritage sites.  It was disclosed that at the outset of the conflict, the country’s Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM), in anticipation of terrorist looting of cultural heritage sites, had begun securing priceless artifacts by placing them in secure storage sites around the country.

The effort was a herculean one, involving DGAM’s 2500 employees spanning out across the country, and while most of the credit has gone to Dr. Maamoun Abdulkarim, the director of DGAM, it would appear, if Buck’s article is any indication, that Asma Assad played a role in the effort as well:

There are 500,000 important ancient works of art hidden in storage; Asma al-Assad has brought in the Louvre to create a network of museums and cultural attractions across Syria, and asked Italian experts to help create a database of the 5,000 archaeological sites in the desert. “Culture,” she says, “is like a financial asset. We have an abundance of it, thousands of years of history, but we can’t afford to be complacent.”

The reference to works of art being “hidden in storage” would suggest that already at that time–February of 2011–Syrian officials had begun to anticipate the hellfire that was about to be unleashed upon their country.

One other thing I might mention is a small criticism I have of Buck’s piece. She speaks of “minders” who she claims accompanied her throughout her visit, commenting as well that “on the rare occasions I am out alone, a random series of men in leather jackets seems to be keeping close tabs on what I am doing and where I am headed.”

All I can say in response to this is that I never experienced anything of the like during my own visit to Syria. I stayed at the Dama Rose Hotel–the location where the conference was held–and while I occasionally went out for strolls through the neighborhood, I never once was followed by any “random series of men in leather jackets.” Yes–there were Syrian soldiers in the streets. But they were stationed at certain locations, busy street corners for instance, and they did not begin tailing me suspiciously after I had passed them by. They remained at their posts. Moreover, their presence, rather than threatening, was a comforting assurance I would not be attacked or kidnapped by terrorists, at least while the soldiers were around.

Lastly, I would also mention that Vogue succumbed to the withering barrage of criticism and removed Buck’s article from their website. Less than a year later, the only trace of it that remained on the Internet was at a pro-Syrian site called PresidentAssad.net–something which was made note of in a January 3, 2012 article by Fisher at The Atlantic.

The PresidentAssad.net site is still around, but for some reason the Vogue article seems to have gotten dropped over the years. However, it has re-surfaced–at Gawker. There you may find it (at least for the time being) along with a link back to the attack piece I mentioned above, written by Cook and posted in February of 2011.

***

Asma al-Assad: A Rose in the Desert

By Joan Juliet Buck

Asma al-Assad is glamorous, young, and very chic—the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies. Her style is not the couture-and-bling dazzle of Middle Eastern power but a deliberate lack of adornment. She’s a rare combination: a thin, long-limbed beauty with a trained analytic mind who dresses with cunning understatement. Paris Match calls her “the element of light in a country full of shadow zones.” She is the first lady of Syria.

Syria is known as the safest country in the Middle East, possibly because, as the State Department’s Web site says, “the Syrian government conducts intense physical and electronic surveillance of both Syrian citizens and foreign visitors.” It’s a secular country where women earn as much as men and the Muslim veil is forbidden in universities, a place without bombings, unrest, or kidnappings, but its shadow zones are deep and dark. Asma’s husband, Bashar al-Assad, was elected president in 2000, after the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, with a startling 97 percent of the vote. In Syria, power is hereditary. The country’s alliances are murky. How close are they to Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah? There are souvenir Hezbollah ashtrays in the souk, and you can spot the Hamas leadership racing through the bar of the Four Seasons. Its number-one enmity is clear: Israel. But that might not always be the case. The United States has just posted its first ambassador there since 2005, Robert Ford.

Iraq is next door, Iran not far away. Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, is 90 minutes by car from Damascus. Jordan is south, and next to it the region that Syrian maps label Palestine. There are nearly one million refugees from Iraq in Syria, and another half-million displaced Palestinians.

“It’s a tough neighborhood,” admits Asma al-Assad.

It’s also a neighborhood intoxicatingly close to the dawn of civilization, where agriculture began some 10,000 years ago, where the wheel, writing, and musical notation were invented. Out in the desert are the magical remains of Palmyra, Apamea, and Ebla. In the National Museum you see small 4,000-year-old panels inlaid with mother-of-pearl that is echoed in the new mother-of-pearl furniture for sale in the souk. Christian Louboutin comes to buy the damask silk brocade they’ve been making here since the Middle Ages for his shoes and bags, and has incidentally purchased a small palace in Aleppo, which, like Damascus, has been inhabited for more than 5,000 years.

The first lady works out of a small white building in a hilly, modern residential neighborhood called Muhajireen, where houses and apartments are crammed together and neighbors peer and wave from balconies. The first impression of Asma al-Assad is movement—a determined swath cut through space with a flash of red soles. Dark-brown eyes, wavy chin-length brown hair, long neck, an energetic grace. No watch, no jewelry apart from Chanel agates around her neck, not even a wedding ring, but fingernails lacquered a dark blue-green. She’s breezy, conspiratorial, and fun. Her accent is English but not plummy. Despite what must be a killer IQ, she sometimes uses urban shorthand: “I was, like. . . .”

Asma Akhras was born in London in 1975, the eldest child and only daughter of a Syrian Harley Street cardiologist and his diplomat wife, both Sunni Muslims. They spoke Arabic at home. She grew up in Ealing, went to Queen’s College, and spent holidays with family in Syria. “I’ve dealt with the sense that people don’t expect Syria to be normal. I’d show my London friends my holiday snaps and they’d be—‘Where did you say you went?’ ”

She studied computer science at university, then went into banking. “It wasn’t a typical path for women,” she says, “but I had it all mapped out.” By the spring of 2000, she was closing a big biotech deal at JP Morgan in London and about to take up an MBA at Harvard. She started dating a family friend: the second son of president Hafez al-Assad, Bashar, who’d cut short his ophthalmology studies in London in 1994 and returned to Syria after his older brother, Basil, heir apparent to power, died in a car crash. They had known each other forever, but a ten-year age difference meant that nothing registered—until it did.

“I was always very serious at work, and suddenly I started to take weekends, or disappear, and people just couldn’t figure it out,” explains the first lady. “What do you say—‘I’m dating the son of a president’? You just don’t say that. Then he became president, so I tried to keep it low-key. Suddenly I was turning up in Syria every month, saying, ‘Granny, I miss you so much!’ I quit in October because by then we knew that we were going to get married at some stage. I couldn’t say why I was leaving. My boss thought I was having a nervous breakdown because nobody quits two months before bonus after closing a really big deal. He wouldn’t accept my resignation. I was, like, ‘Please, really, I just want to get out, I’ve had enough,’ and he was ‘Don’t worry, take time off, it happens to the best of us.’ ” She left without her bonus in November and married Bashar al-Assad in December.

“What I’ve been able to take away from banking was the transferable skills—the analytical thinking, understanding the business side of running a company—to run an NGO or to try and oversee a project.” She runs her office like a business, chairs meeting after meeting, starts work many days at six, never breaks for lunch, and runs home to her children at four. “It’s my time with them, and I get them fresh, unedited—I love that. I really do.” Her staff are used to eating when they can. “I have a rechargeable battery,” she says.

The 35-year-old first lady’s central mission is to change the mind-set of six million Syrians under eighteen, encourage them to engage in what she calls “active citizenship.” “It’s about everyone taking shared responsibility in moving this country forward, about empowerment in a civil society. We all have a stake in this country; it will be what we make it.”

In 2005 she founded Massar, built around a series of discovery centers where children and young adults from five to 21 engage in creative, informal approaches to civic responsibility. Massar’s mobile Green Team has touched 200,000 kids across Syria since 2005. The organization is privately funded through donations. The Syria Trust for Development, formed in 2007, oversees Massar as well as her first NGO, the rural micro-credit association FIRDOS, and SHABAB, which exists to give young people business skills they need for the future.

And then there’s her cultural mission: “People tend to see Syria as artifacts and history,” she says. “For us it’s about the accumulation of cultures, traditions, values, customs. It’s the difference between hardware and software: the artifacts are the hardware, but the software makes all the difference—the customs and the spirit of openness. We have to make sure that we don’t lose that. . . . ” Here she gives an apologetic grin. “You have to excuse me, but I’m a banker—that brand essence.”

That brand essence includes the distant past. There are 500,000 important ancient works of art hidden in storage; Asma al-Assad has brought in the Louvre to create a network of museums and cultural attractions across Syria, and asked Italian experts to help create a database of the 5,000 archaeological sites in the desert. “Culture,” she says, “is like a financial asset. We have an abundance of it, thousands of years of history, but we can’t afford to be complacent.”

In December, Asma al-Assad was in Paris to discuss her alliance with the Louvre. She dazzled a tough French audience at the International Diplomatic Institute, speaking without notes. “I’m not trying to disguise culture as anything more than it is,” she said, “and if I sound like I’m talking politics, it’s because we live in a politicized region, a politicized time, and we are affected by that.”

The French ambassador to Syria, Eric Chevallier, was there: “She managed to get people to consider the possibilities of a country that’s modernizing itself, that stands for a tolerant secularism in a powder-keg region, with extremists and radicals pushing in from all sides—and the driving force for that rests largely on the shoulders of one couple. I hope they’ll make the right choices for their country and the region. ”

Damascus evokes a dusty version of a Mediterranean hill town in an Eastern-bloc country. The courtyard of the Umayyad Mosque at night looks exactly like St. Mark’s square in Venice. When I first arrive, I’m met on the tarmac by a minder, who gives me a bouquet of white roses and lends me a Syrian cell phone; the head minder, a high-profile American PR, joins us the next day. The first lady’s office has provided drivers, so I shop and see sights in a bubble of comfort and hospitality. On the rare occasions I am out alone, a random series of men in leather jackets seems to be keeping close tabs on what I am doing and where I am headed.

“I like things I can touch. I like to get out and meet people and do things,” the first lady says as we set off for a meeting in a museum and a visit to an orphanage. “As a banker, you have to be so focused on the job at hand that you lose the experience of the world around you. My husband gave me back something I had lost.”

She slips behind the wheel of a plain SUV, a walkie-talkie and her cell thrown between the front seats and a Syrian-silk Louboutin tote on top. She does what the locals do—swerves to avoid crazy men who run across busy freeways, misses her turn, checks your seat belt, points out sights, and then can’t find a parking space. When a traffic cop pulls her over at a roundabout, she lowers the tinted window and dips her head with a playful smile. The cop’s eyes go from slits to saucers.

Her younger brother Feras, a surgeon who moved to Syria to start a private health-care group, says, “Her intelligence is both intellectual and emotional, and she’s a master at harmonizing when, and how much, to use of each one.”

In the Saint Paul orphanage, maintained by the Melkite–Greek Catholic patriarchate and run by the Basilian sisters of Aleppo, Asma sits at a long table with the children. Two little boys in new glasses and thick sweaters are called Yussuf. She asks them what kind of music they like. “Sad music,” says one. In the room where she’s had some twelve computers installed, the first lady tells a nun, “I hope you’re letting the younger children in here go crazy on the computers.” The nun winces: “The children are afraid to learn in case they don’t have access to computers when they leave here,” she says.

In the courtyard by the wall down which Saint Paul escaped in a basket 2,000 years ago, an old tree bears gigantic yellow fruit I have never seen before. Citrons. Cédrats in French.

Back in the car, I ask what religion the orphans are. “It’s not relevant,” says Asma al-Assad. “Let me try to explain it to you. That church is a part of my heritage because it’s a Syrian church. The Umayyad Mosque is the third-most-important holy Muslim site, but within the mosque is the tomb of Saint John the Baptist. We all kneel in the mosque in front of the tomb of Saint John the Baptist. That’s how religions live together in Syria—a way that I have never seen anywhere else in the world. We live side by side, and have historically. All the religions and cultures that have passed through these lands—the Armenians, Islam, Christianity, the Umayyads, the Ottomans—make up who I am.”

“Does that include the Jews?” I ask.

“And the Jews,” she answers. “There is a very big Jewish quarter in old Damascus.”

The Jewish quarter of Damascus spans a few abandoned blocks in the old city that emptied out in 1992, when most of the Syrian Jews left. Their houses are sealed up and have not been touched, because, as people like to tell you, Syrians don’t touch the property of others. The broken glass and sagging upper floors tell a story you don’t understand—are the owners coming back to claim them one day?

The presidential family lives surrounded by neighbors in a modern apartment in Malki. On Friday, the Muslim day of rest, Asma al-Assad opens the door herself in jeans and old suede stiletto boots, hair in a ponytail, the word happiness spelled out across the back of her T-shirt. At the bottom of the stairs stands the off-duty president in jeans—tall, long-necked, blue-eyed. A precise man who takes photographs and talks lovingly about his first computer, he says he was attracted to studying eye surgery “because it’s very precise, it’s almost never an emergency, and there is very little blood.”

The old al-Assad family apartment was remade into a child-friendly triple-decker playroom loft surrounded by immense windows on three sides. With neither shades nor curtains, it’s a fishbowl. Asma al-Assad likes to say, “You’re safe because you are surrounded by people who will keep you safe.” Neighbors peer in, drop by, visit, comment on the furniture. The president doesn’t mind: “This curiosity is good: They come to see you, they learn more about you. You don’t isolate yourself.”

There’s a decorated Christmas tree. Seven-year-old Zein watches Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland on the president’s iMac; her brother Karim, six, builds a shark out of Legos; and nine-year-old Hafez tries out his new electric violin. All three go to a Montessori school.

Asma al-Assad empties a box of fondue mix into a saucepan for lunch. The household is run on wildly democratic principles. “We all vote on what we want, and where,” she says. The chandelier over the dining table is made of cut-up comic books. “They outvoted us three to two on that.”

A grid is drawn on a blackboard, with ticks for each member of the family. “We were having trouble with politeness, so we made a chart: ticks for when they spoke as they should, and a cross if they didn’t.” There’s a cross next to Asma’s name. “I shouted,” she confesses. “I can’t talk about empowering young people, encouraging them to be creative and take responsibility, if I’m not like that with my own children.”

“The first challenge for us was, Who’s going to define our lives, us or the position?” says the president. “We wanted to live our identity honestly.”

They announced their marriage in January 2001, after the ceremony, which they kept private. There was deliberately no photograph of Asma. “The British media picked that up as: Now she’s moved into the presidential palace, never to be seen again!” says Asma, laughing.

They had a reason: “She spent three months incognito,” says the president. “Before I had any official engagement,” says the first lady, “I went to 300 villages, every governorate, hospitals, farms, schools, factories, you name it—I saw everything to find out where I could be effective. A lot of the time I was somebody’s ‘assistant’ carrying the bag, doing this and that, taking notes. Nobody asked me if I was the first lady; they had no idea.”

“That way,” adds the president, “she started her NGO before she was ever seen in public as my wife. Then she started to teach people that an NGO is not a charity.”

Neither of them believes in charity for the sake of charity. “We have the Iraqi refugees,” says the president. “Everybody is talking about it as a political problem or as welfare, charity. I say it’s neither—it’s about cultural philosophy. We have to help them. That’s why the first thing I did is to allow the Iraqis to go into schools. If they don’t have an education, they will go back as a bomb, in every way: terrorism, extremism, drug dealers, crime. If I have a secular and balanced neighbor, I will be safe.”

When Angelina Jolie came with Brad Pitt for the United Nations in 2009, she was impressed by the first lady’s efforts to encourage empowerment among Iraqi and Palestinian refugees but alarmed by the Assads’ idea of safety.

“My husband was driving us all to lunch,” says Asma al-Assad, “and out of the corner of my eye I could see Brad Pitt was fidgeting. I turned around and asked, ‘Is anything wrong?’ ”

“Where’s your security?” asked Pitt.

“So I started teasing him—‘See that old woman on the street? That’s one of them! And that old guy crossing the road?

That’s the other one!’ ” They both laugh.

The president joins in the punch line: “Brad Pitt wanted to send his security guards here to come and get some training!”

After lunch, Asma al-Assad drives to the airport, where a Falcon 900 is waiting to take her to Massar in Latakia, on the coast. When she lands, she jumps behind the wheel of another SUV waiting on the tarmac. This is the kind of surprise visit she specializes in, but she has no idea how many kids will turn up at the community center on a rainy Friday.

As it turns out, it’s full. Since the first musical notation was discovered nearby, at Ugarit, the immaculate Massar center in Latakia is built around music. Local kids are jamming in a sound booth; a group of refugee Palestinian girls is playing instruments. Others play chess on wall-mounted computers. These kids have started online blood banks, run marathons to raise money for dialysis machines, and are working on ways to rid Latakia of plastic bags. Apart from a few girls in scarves, you can’t tell Muslims from Christians.

Asma al-Assad stands to watch a laborious debate about how—and whether—to standardize the Arabic spelling of the word Syria. Then she throws out a curve ball. “I’ve been advised that we have to close down this center so as to open another one somewhere else,” she says. Kids’ mouths drop open. Some repress tears. Others are furious. One boy chooses altruism: “That’s OK. We know how to do it now; we’ll help them.”

Then the first lady announces, “That wasn’t true. I just wanted to see how much you care about Massar.”

As the pilot expertly avoids sheet lightning above the snow-flecked desert on the way back, she explains, “There was a little bit of formality in what they were saying to me; it wasn’t real. Tricks like this help—they became alive, they became passionate. We need to get past formalities if we are going to get anything done.”

Two nights later it’s the annual Christmas concert by the children of Al-Farah Choir, run by the Syrian Catholic Father Elias Zahlawi. Just before it begins, Bashar and Asma al-Assad slip down the aisle and take the two empty seats in the front row. People clap, and some call out his nickname:

Two hundred children dressed variously as elves, reindeers, or candy canes share the stage with members of the national orchestra, who are done up as elves. The show becomes a full-on songfest, with the elves and reindeer and candy canes giving their all to “Hallelujah” and “Joy to the World.” The carols slide into a more serpentine rhythm, an Arabic rap group takes over, and then it’s back to Broadway mode. The president whispers, “All of these styles belong to our culture. This is how you fight extremism—through art.”

Brass bells are handed out. Now we’re all singing “Jingle Bell Rock,” 1,331 audience members shaking their bells, singing, crying, and laughing.

“This is the diversity you want to see in the Middle East,” says the president, ringing his bell. “This is how you can have peace!”

December 27, 2017 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Fake News, Full Spectrum Dominance, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Trump says $7 trillion ‘foolishly spent’ in Middle East

RT | December 23, 2017

Donald Trump tweeted that the US “foolishly spent” $7 trillion in the Middle East, urging for money to be invested in rebuilding his own country.

Trump’s Twitter statement published on Friday initially focused on economic issues, but eventually took aim at the US policy in the Middle East. “At some point, and for the good of the country, I predict we will start working with the Democrats in a Bipartisan fashion.”

“Infrastructure would be a perfect place to start,” the tycoon-turned-president tweeted, adding: “After having foolishly spent $7 trillion in the Middle East, it is time to start rebuilding our country!”

The tweet came a day after 128 UN members supported a General Assembly resolution which condemned the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israeli capital. The vote took place during a rare UN General Assembly emergency session, convened at the request of Arab and Muslim states.

Trump warned before the session that the US could punish nations which vote against Washington’s decision at the General Assembly, saying on Wednesday that there are countries that “take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars, and then they vote against us.”

“Well, we’re watching those votes. Let them vote against us, we’ll save a lot. We don’t care.”

US military ventures in the Middle East over just the last decade and a half have indeed cost Washington a pretty sum. Even though the Pentagon said in June that it had spent only $1.5 trillion on war-related costs since September 11, 2001, the real figures could be much higher.

According to a report prepared by the Congressional Research Service back in 2014, the costs of the US war on terror already amounted to at least $1.6 trillion at that time. Later, a 2016 Brown University study put the costs of US wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria at about $3.6 trillion over the period between 2001 and 2016, adding that they would likely reach $4.79 trillion by the end of 2017.

A 2013 Harvard University working paper said that the cost of just two US wars – in Iraq and Afghanistan – could eventually amount to between $4 and 6 trillion, including long-term medical care and disability compensation for service members, veterans and families, military replenishment, and social and economic expenses.

Bonnie Kristian, a fellow at the Washington-based Defense Priorities think tank put the total costs of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the “relevant legacy costs,” at $5 trillion. In her article published by Forbes magazine, she also predicted that this already hefty bill would grow to $12 trillion by 2053 even if the US is “done in Iraq and Afghanistan by the end of 2017,” as it includes healthcare commitments to US veterans and “interest on the debt incurred by these wars.”

And that does not include the costs of other US military endeavors, such as the 2011 intervention in Libya or overseas operations in countries such as Pakistan, Somalia, or Yemen. Apart from that, since 2001, the US has also spent $164.3 billion worth of aid to Iraq and Afghanistan, according to USAID.

December 23, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Militarism, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , | 3 Comments

India is on the right side of history over Palestine

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | December 23, 2017

It is reasonable to surmise that the Indian decision to vote in the UN General Assembly on Thursday against the US president Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel would only have been taken at the level of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

India has been largely harmonizing its foreign policies with Washington through the past decade. And, to boot it, the Trump administration has openly threatened to punish any country that voted against it. Generally speaking, bureaucrats in the South Block wouldn’t jeopardize their career – or their post-retirement assignments by annoying the Americans. (Read WikiLeaks and you’ll learn more about it.) Conceivably, therefore, they would have passed the Jerusalem buck to the PMO where it was lying until the PM got back from the Gujarat campaign.

Then, there is the personal bonding between Modi and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu (who is expected to pay a week-long visit to India in January.) Won’t ‘Bibi’ take it amiss? Frankly, that is a non-issue. The arms sales to India constitute a significant source of budgetary support for Israel. Israelis are a very pragmatic lot. The Haaretz newspaper recently featured a lengthy article highlighting the RSS and affiliated Hindu nationalists as an exotic breed who adore Adolf Hitler and subscribe to the Nazi ideology. But has that prevented Israel from doing business with the Modi government? Of course not.

A third aspect is about the ideological affinities devolving upon Islamophobia between the present Indian ruling elite and their Israeli counterparts. Thus, all in all, Modi took a bold decision. Neither academics who claim expertise in West Asian studies nor diplomats who extensively served in the region – or, even ministers in Modi’s cabinet – probably expected him to take such a bold decision.

No doubt, Modi took a wise decision. India has a relationship with West Asia that goes far beyond the regimes in those countries. The West Asian region is in transition, in a historical sense, and India is doing the right thing by taking into account the groundswell of popular opinion over the Jerusalem question. This is one of those rare opportunities available for India to position itself in terms of time past, time present and time future. As a shrewd political mind, Modi senses it.

Diplomacy is far from a cynical process. The importance of principles cannot but be stressed if foreign policy is to be durable and sustainable. Good diplomacy is about maneuvering and negotiating to safeguard interests, but without jettisoning principles. In such a sense, India has had a principled stance on the Palestine issue, which it has maintained even while developing a pragmatic ‘win-win’ relationship with Israel through the past quarter century. India cannot and should not identify with Zionism. Ironically, there is a very significant body of opinion even amongst Jews who find Zionism to be repugnant as an ideology.

Finally, although Trump’s decision on Jerusalem was largely prompted by considerations of US domestic politics, there is undeniably a foreign-policy dimension to it. A former Turkish diplomat and area specialist Faruk Logoglu (who used to be Foreign Secretary when I served as ambassador in Ankara and whom I highly respect at a personal level) told the Tehran Times in an interview this week,

Trump probably calculated that the reactions from the region, especially from Saudi Arabia and Egypt would be meek and he was actually right.  The US President aims to isolate Iran by forming a Saudi-led Sunni alliance in the region with the addition of Israel. Trump’s ultimate target is Iran.  The issue of Jerusalem is just a way-station in Trump’s strategy against Iran. (Tehran Times )

Evidently, Trump is putting immense pressure on Saudi Arabia. Trump telephoned Saudi King Salman on Wednesday to rev up the anti-Iran campaign, again. But, interestingly, on the very next day, Salman phoned Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Kremlin readout) Saudi Arabia is doing a delicate balancing act. It cannot afford to displease Trump, given the stark realities of the petrodollar. But it increasingly feels he’s a blood sucker and wants to put some space in between. One gets the impression that Saudis want to focus on their own transition and the much-needed internal restructuring. They hope to get a helping hand from Putin to work out an exit strategy in Yemen.

Israel, on the other hand, is spreading exaggerated reports at regular intervals – largely through sly remarks and innuendos –that it is having a quiet affair with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince. It is a disinformation game that Israelis are good at playing. And they have nothing to lose anyway.

Suffice to say, Jerusalem is the tip of an iceberg. But looking ahead, Trump’s Iran project is doomed to fail. Unless Israel fundamentally reorients its own strategies (which seems unlikely under Bibi), its own future may become uncertain. Iran and Turkey (plus Egypt, if it can get its act together) are the only two authentic regional powers in the Middle East. This geopolitical reality will manifest – if not already – as time passes. Therefore, keeping the relations with Israel at a transactional level without harboring romantic notions about it is the prudent thing to do.

December 22, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Islamophobia, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

US Creates New Syrian Army Putting Peace Process in Jeopardy

By Peter KORZUN | Strategic Culture Foundation | 18.12.2017

The US-led coalition is training militants at the Syrian Hasakah refugee camp located 70 kilometers from the border of Turkey and 50 kilometers from the border of Iraq. The New Syria Army is being formed at the location to fight the Syrian government forces in southern Syria. The US Special Operations Forces (SOF) are playing the main role in the process. According to Russia’s Center for Reconciliation of Warring Parties, most of these militants come from Islamic State and Al Nusra Front terrorist groups. Around 750 fighters from Raqqa, Deir-ez-Zor, Abu Kamal and the eastern territories of the Euphrates, including Islamic State terrorists who flew Raqqa in October, are going through the training process.

In November, Russia accused the US of establishing a training camp for militants near Rukban to form a new “moderate” opposition.

The location of the US military base, in Rmeilan district, the Hasakah province, was reported by Anadolu news agency, which unveiled a list of ten US outposts located in areas controlled by Kurdish militias in the provinces of Aleppo, Hasakah and Raqqa. The American forces are strategically placed so as to prevent Syria’s government troops from retaking territory in the northern and southeastern regions.

Washington tried to prevent US media from reprinting the story, after it had already appeared in the Turkish media.

The US deployed SOF to northern Syria this summer. The base in Rmeilan has an airfield through which cargo aircraft deliver weapons to the fighters – one of the two major arms routes into the country, along with a land route from Iraq. No doubt, the military bases in Syria are set up in violation of international law on the territory of a sovereign country that has never taken any offensive action towards the US.

The infrastructure and the formation of the New Syrian Army are signs that Washington views Syria as part of a broader front against the influence of Russia and Iran. The US-allied Syrian Kurds are tough fighters when it comes to defending their territory but it may not be the case when it comes to other areas. The Kurds-dominated Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) group has already reached its geographical limits, and will not risk losing its most valuable lands through overstretching its forces. The US needs other groups to rely on and it’s not too selective while recruiting the fighters to fill the ranks.

Obviously, the new armed force will be used to conduct offensive operations outside the SDF-controlled areas. In late November, the US said it suspended supplying arms to the Syrian Kurds to avoid further aggravation of tensions with Turkey. Arming a new force manned by Sunni Arabs will not create problems to negatively affect the relationship with the Sunni NATO ally.

Another consideration – the Sunni monarchies of the Persian Gulf monarchies will be willing to contribute. The US has just displayed an array of Iranian weapons collected from the Yemen battlefield, including remains of the Iranian-made short-range Qaim ballistic missile fired from Yemen on Nov. 4 at the international airport outside the Saudi capital of Riyadh. The weapons were exhibited on Dec.14 for the first time at a US base outside Washington (the warehouse at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling) as “concrete proof” of Iran’s violation of UN resolutions. All of the recovered weapons were provided to the United States by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Under UN Resolution 2231 endorsing the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran is banned from supplying, selling or transferring weapons outside the country unless approved by the UN Security Council. A separate resolution bans the supply of weapons to Yemen’s Houthis. Members of Congress, the press and representatives of foreign governments could inspect them. The move is clearly designed to make other countries support actions undertaken to confront Iran in the Middle East.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, seized the opportunity to call for an international coalition to counter Iran’s influence in the Middle East, while accusing it of “fanning the flames of conflict” in the region. The US is going to “build a coalition to really push back against Iran and what they’re doing“, Haley said, without going into specifics. Saudi Arabia welcomed the ambassador’s comments on Dec.14, saying it condemned “the Iranian regime for its flagrant violations of the international resolutions and norms“. The UAE, which is part of the Saudi-led coalition, said the evidence provided by the US “leaves no doubt about Iran’s flagrant disregard for its UN obligations, and its role in the proliferation and trafficking of weapons in the region“. Symbolically, a new round of UN-brokered Syria peace talks in Geneva ended without results on the very same day – Dec.14.

The events in Iraq also add to the picture – the US is preparing for confrontation with Iran. A confrontation with Iran in Syria would be synonymous with the new phase of war in the region, leaving a far greater impact than a mere upgrade of the Syrian conflict.

The creation of the new army at a time the hopes are high that the Astana and Geneva peace talks will achieve progress is a very worrisome event. Instead of diplomatic initiatives, the US prefers to launch war preparations. Even talking with Russian officials, it’s always about de-escalation, never about peace process. Creating the new army is an attempt to make Syria remain fragmented into multiple, semiautonomous parts, defying central authority. The money spent on the new force cannot go down the drain. The newly created army will move to capture new territories and inevitably escalate violence. While calling for peace in Syria, the US is preparing for war, which may spark pretty soon.

December 18, 2017 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , | 1 Comment